Panama Papers Show Arab Leaders Awash In Shady Business Deals

Some of the Arab world's most powerful figures—including kings, presidents and prime ministers—are tied to secretive shell companies worth billions

The Panama Papers exposed Saudi King Salman's shell companies — REUTERS
Apr 04, 2016 at 12:48 PM ET

The massive 11.5 million document leak revealed on Sunday shows that secretive off-shore accounts have long been a staple among some of the Arab world’s most powerful politicians and their families.

More than a half-dozen current and former heads of Arab states are linked to Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm that has facilitated tax havens and hid billions in assets through shell companies, according to a year-long investigation by more than 370 journalists from around the world. The implicated leaders include Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and United Arab Emirates’ President Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, as well as former prime ministers of Iraq, Jordan and Qatar. Companies operated through Mossack Fonseca have also been tied to cousins of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the son of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif.

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At one point, even the personal secretary of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI oversaw millions of dollars in transactions through companies operating out of the British Virgin Islands.

You can view a breakdown of the findings here.

All told, more than 140 politicians from around the world appear in the so-called Panama Papers, which the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists shared on Sunday. In its sweeping investigation, ICIJ stressed that it’s not illegal to register a shell company. However, shell companies may also be used for illegal activities, such as hiding assets and evading taxes.

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Records show that dozens of companies tied to Arab leaders, their relatives and associates—and operating through Mossack Fonseca—purchased billions of dollars in global real estate, secured mortgages and leases on lavish homes and obtained luxury yachts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In each case, the links between the businesses and these individuals remained secret.

Here’s a breakdown of the findings:

Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud, King of Saudi Arabia 
Tied to shell companies that secured $34 million in mortgages for a pair of luxury London homes and listed a motor yacht called Erga, named after the king’s royal palace in Riyadh.

Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates
Tied to shell companies that purchased more than $1.7 billion in residential and commercial property throughout London.

Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, former prime minister of Qatar
Tied to shell companies that managed al-Thani’s $300 million super-yacht Al-Mirqab and operated multiple bank accounts in Luxembourg.

Ayad Allawi, former prime minister of Iraq
Tied to shell companies that manage valuable property owned by Allawi in London.

Ahmad Ali al-Mirghani, former president of Sudan
Tied to shell companies that purchased a $600,000 longterm lease on an apartment in London’s Hyde Park neighborhood and held $2.72 million in assets for him.

Ali Abu al-Ragheb, former prime minister of Jordan
Tied to shell companies that operated out of the British Virgin Islands and Seychelles, which he co-directed with his wife.

Mohammad bin Naif bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia
Was granted power of attorney over Panamanian-based companies Alyneth Limited and Havelock Capital Corporation.

Rami and Hafez Makhlouf, cousins of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Tied to shell companies that managed a Syrian telecom company and other lucrative investments.

Alaa Mubarak, son of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
Owned Pan World Investments Inc, which was registerd in the British Virgin Islands and managed by Credit Suisse.

Mounir Majidi, personal secretary to Morocco’s King Mohammed VI
Tied to shell companies that purchased luxury automobiles for King Mohammed and financed the $42 million renovation of a luxury apartment in Paris.